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A Conversation with Tawfiq Ammari
The adoption of emerging technologies in everyday life and technology as a tool for empowerment are two projects Assistant Professor Tawfiq Ammari is currently focusing on.
Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science Tawfiq Ammari joined the faculty last month. In our conversation with him, he discusses his research, which lies at the intersection of Social Computing, Data Science, and Science, Technology, and Society studies (STS).

The interplay between technological and social role change is the research focus of Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science Tawfiq Ammari, who joined the SC&I faculty last month. Ammari earned his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, and he studies how the mass adoption of technologies like social media and emerging technologies like voice assistants affects social roles in the domestic sphere. He also examines how large societal shifts, such as changing norms around masculinity, are associated with online interactions and social movements.

I am going to focus on two of the projects I am going to be working on in the near future. My first project is on the adoption of emerging technologies in everyday life.  Emerging technologies include things like voice assistance, IOT devices, anything that starts with “Smart,” for example Smart lights, Smart sensors. The other one is technology as a tool for empowerment.

These are causing dramatic changes in how we do our daily routines. As more people buy voice assistance technologies and use them at home, this becomes more and more interesting and important to understand.

In my earlier work I conducted research on Amazon Alexa and Google Home User and computationally analyzed their logs and interviewed users as well. I found that the main categories were access to music, hands free search, and IOT (Internet of Things) control. When we look at IOT control, turns out having the voice assistance acts like scaffolding. When people start seeing what the technology can do, start building up this new technology at home by adding perhaps a smart thermostat or a smart lamp. But in addition to all that in our interview we found that adopting merging technologies might empower members of marginalized communities, including persons with disabilities and their caregivers.

The reason for that is it’s part of the idea of universal access. These voice systems are easier to learn how to use. They also minimize the effects of “othering.” There are technologies designed for persons with special needs, and while they might be helpful, they also might add to the stigma.

Now we are focusing on looking at how people use voice assistance on their cell phones and how that might be different from how they use it at home. We are specifically focusing on privacy issues.

The other focus is the use of voice assistance by older adults in a number of communities. In both of these projects I am working with SC&I Ph.D. student Dan Houli and we are about to start recruitment so it’s a really interesting time.

The other project focuses on technology as a tool for empowerment. I am focusing on how technology, specifically social media, can be used to empower marginalized communities. I realize that the potential here relies upon the specific technological features, its affordability, and the norms associated with the different tools available to users. I am basing this on earlier work relying on computational techniques to study the use of Reddit over ten years to show how more anonymous online communities like Reddit allow users to discuss sensitive or stigmatized information. I later built on this work to discuss design principles to help users experiment with posts in new communities. by letting users more through different levels of identity, not necessarily either remaining anonymous or using their real names, but having a variation between them, allows users to enter communities where they are not sure about the norms and ask questions that might be important to them but potentially stigmatizing. So by changing the way we design social media we can provide the tools necessary for people to use social media as a tool of empowerment.

I am also currently focused on a project that is building on earlier work that focused on fathers. I am now focused on how different masculinities are enacted online. How these ideas and ideologies are developed on social media. These include both toxic masculinity and other forms of masculinity coming out in relation to it.

This semester I am teaching ITI 210, Management of Technological Organizations.

More information about the Library and Information Science Department at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information is on the website


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